The Common Good
March-April 2003

The War at Home

by Duane Shank | March-April 2003

The cost? We're already paying it.

In the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson discovered that he could not fight the war in Vietnam and a war on poverty. George W. Bush is about to learn the same lesson. The combined effect of his tax cuts and war spending will leave very little for programs to assist people in poverty.

The fiscal year 2003 budget increases funding for the military and "homeland security" by $42 billion, while cutting domestic spending by more than $9 billion. The appropriations bill funding the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services—which includes many social programs—was cut $2.7 billion.

The FY 2004 budget the administration will propose is even worse. It will provide very little new funding for anything other than the military and what passes for domestic security. Indications from the Office of Management and Budget are that the new budget will contain the largest deficit in history. Meanwhile, the military budget is nearly $400 billion—the largest since the height of the Cold War. Administration projections are for military spending to grow to nearly $500 billion by 2007—a five-year total of more than $2 trillion. Estimates of the cost of a war against Iraq range from $100 to $300 billion or more.

The administration's tax cuts will cost the federal government $674 billion in lost revenue over the next 10 years. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, the elimination of personal income tax on dividends and the reduction of the capital gains tax on stock sales combined will cost $364 billion. The repeal of the estate tax will cost an estimated $30 billion. And all of these primarily benefit the wealthiest 5 percent of the population.

More important than all the statistics, however, is the moral issue of what this says about our society's priorities. A tax policy that primarily benefits the wealthy, and a federal budget that primarily benefits the military—while poverty, hunger, and homelessness continue to rise—is a direct affront to biblical faith. The Hebrew prophets frequently assailed their societies for spending on horses and chariots while neglecting the poor.

As Martin Luther King Jr. put it during the Johnson era, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." If he were alive today, he would be saying the same.

—Duane Shank

Duane Shank is issues and policy adviser for Sojourners.

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